CLERGY CORNER: Shavuot

Posted on 06 June 2019 by LeslieM

A can of beans

Three guys are alone on a desert island: an engineer, a biologist and an economist. They are starving and don’t have a thing to eat, but somehow they find a can of beans on the shore.

The engineer says, “Let’s hit the can with a rock until it opens.”

The biologist has another idea, “No. We should wait for a while. Erosion will do the job.”

Finally, the economist says, “Let’s assume that we have a can opener.”

The Desert

What was the significance of the fact that Torah was given in a wilderness, in a barren and infertile desert, not in a civilized terrain, nor on soil conducive to human living and nature’s blessing. Why did G-d communicate His blueprint for life and enter into an eternal covenant with the Jewish people in the aridity and desolateness of a desert?

1. The Torah was given on soil not owned by any particular people or community, to signify that the Torah belongs to every single soul.

2. The giving of the Torah in the wilderness represents the idea that Torah is not a product of a particular culture and genre. It enriches all cultures, but transcends them. 

3. The function of Torah is to confront and refine the “barren wilderness” within the human psyche and the world.

The Bible relates that when Moses presented the covenant before the Israelites, they responded, “We will do and we will listen” (Exodus 24:7). This expression has always been a source of wonderment and surprise to rabbis and a refutation of the anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews as calculating and self-protective. “We will do and we will listen” implies a commitment to observe the covenant even before the Jews heard its details and understood its ramifications.

The Talmud tells a story about a Sadducee who once saw one of the great Talmudic sages, Rava, so engrossed in learning that he did not attend a wound in his own hand. The Sadducee exclaimed, “You rash people! You put your mouths ahead of your ears [by saying “we will do and we will listen”], and you still persist in your recklessness. First, you should have heard out [the covenant details]. If it is within your capacity, then accept it. If not, you should have rejected it!” 

His argument was logical. Imagine somebody offers you to invest a large sum of money in a developing company. To respond, “Sure, here is the money, and then, afterward, I will listen to the details” is ridiculous. If you do not know what the company is all about, why subject your money to possible loss? And, yet, in this case, the Jews declared that they were ready to embrace a life-altering covenant, even before they heard all the details and knew what Judaism was all about! Why? How?

Rava answered the Sadducee with these words, “We walked [into it] with our whole being.”

What Rava meant was this: By definition, a relationship with G-d cannot be created on our terms; it must be on His terms.

If there is something called Truth, if there is something called Reality, we cannot define it; it must define us. We cannot accept it on condition that it suits our senses and expectations. On the contrary, we must realign our condition to it. Once the Jewish people knew that G-d was communicating with them, they did not want to fit religion into their imagination; they had no pre- conditions for a relationship with truth. It was in the desert that the Jews can declare, “We will do and we will listen.”

 This process must occur each year anew. To receive Torah, we must have the courage to walk into a desert; we must strip ourselves from any pre-defined self-identity. We need to be ready to hear the sound beneath the sounds we are accustomed to. Torah is not merely a cute and endearing document filled with rituals, to satisfy nostalgia or tradition. Torah demands that we open ourselves up with our whole being and declare, “We shall do and we shall listen!”

Ten Commandments will be read at services Sunday at 11 a.m. Feel free to join our services.

Happy Shavuot 

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center at 2025 E. Sample Rd. in Lighthouse Point. For all upcoming events, please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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